Building and Maintaining Online Communities for Your Business

| September 28, 2014 | Grow Sales

There are many discussions these days about how small business owners struggle to get connected and stay connected with their communities of interest. Whether the priorities are personal or professional, the concerns are the same; where do I go to find and share amongst my peers, relevant and consistent exchanges of ideas, values, interests and market intelligence?

Building and maintaining an online community centered on your agenda is the single best way to find what you’re looking for. Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn agrees,  “…your network (community) is a store of distributed intelligence that can enable you.” It helps if your company culture is one that responds to and rewards consistent and relevant participation in order to achieve a high-probability of success.

Why Consider an Online Community?

Besides being an excellent source of market intelligence, the small business can listen and gather online data from the community such as; buyer’s needs, potential and specific intent. Communities are an essential part of any innovative process and can provide your business with a source of fresh ideas for improving current offerings and customer feedback for new products and services. It’s also a great way to understand better how your messaging is being received. “In 2013, what are companies focusing on?… The #1 initiative is now online communities.” ―Michael Fauscette Analyst IDC

Does Your Community Have a Purpose?

Maria Ogneva, Community Manager at Salesforce says, “The business value of any community is measured against the business goals it was set to address and varies greatly across types of communities.” People brought together in a community should have a common set of values and goals. Why are they in this community? How can the community help them meet their personal and professional goals? A good manager will engage the community to facilitate connections based on a shared purpose.

“Value has a value only if its value is valued.” ~ Bryan Dyson Former CEO of Coca Cola

What Resources/Responsibilities Are Required (Best Practices)?

Typically someone in your company should assume a “community manager” role. Any project requires someone to manage its success. This role involves the following responsibilities:

  • Setup and manage profiles
  • Identifies community’s and members’ goals and ensures that they continue to be met.
  • Listen to the community discussions
  • Grows the community through engagement via post, comments and direct replies
  • Identifies, recognizes and engages other community influencers both offline and online
  • Advocates for and amplifies interests of the community to your business and vice versa
  • Create polls/surveys that demonstrate that you are truly interested in hearing their opinions
  • Contingency, escalation and moderation

Timely posts and responses are important to any significant participation; many small business owners miss opportune times to engage their community members after 5PM and on the weekends. Asking your community when they engage online is as important as what you contribute. And while it’s been stated repeatedly that content is king, I have found that context is more important and significant. What good are your community building efforts if you’re not producing context that captures their attention?

Break It Down

Here’s how that breaks down into percentages, thanks to our friends at Carousel 30.

  • 50% Engagement
  • 27% Community Growth
  • 8% Leads (qualified)
  • 7% Sales
  • 3% Share of Voice
  • 1% Cost Savings

What Should You Avoid?

Based on a recent study by Disruptive Communications, there are five things that your social community hates:

  1. Poor spelling and grammar
  2. Updates are too “sales-y”
  3. Updates posted too often
  4. Trying too hard to be funny
  5. Does not post updates often enough

What’s In It for Everyone?

There are many applications for the use of community in your day-to-day business operations that convey exclusivity and value, which can separate your business from the competition. An effective community manager creates an environment around its members’ “What’s In It For Me” motivations.

Building and maintaining the right community will expose your small business to a knowledgebase of expertise that will “enable you”. Your business must provide and share a community platform that is authentic and vibrant and not only about you, but about them!

What are your experiences or concerns? I encourage you to share your thoughts with this community of interest. Have you assigned someone to your community interests? If so, how is it working?

 

Richard Sink
Richard Sink
Richard Sink is the founder of Critical Connections. He has 20+ years tech experience and 9 years of experience in business optimization. He is especially passionate about technology and business optimization. He is well versed in how new technologies, SEO campaigns, web development and social media strategies can solve business problems, improve business processes and achieve a competitive advantage that will positively impact the bottom-line results.

See all posts by Richard Sink